Palliative Care: the Art of Companionship

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Photo by Ludvik Hradilek

Jiri  and Marketa Kralovec have been serving families facing illness and loss for many years. Their work through the Klicek Foundation in the Czech Republic has brought palliative care to parents and children who in their most difficult hours, crave witnessing and gentle care as a family unit. Below is a statement of their philosophy, their humanity threading through it like gold. 

Based on 25 years of work with families with gravely sick children, we examine  the boundary between systematic professional help and helping as a fellow human being; the line between technique and relationship, between professional enthusiasm and respect for individual freedom and privacy, between obliging and empowering.

In many countries, palliative care hasn’t even become common – yet it already faces several potential dangers and drawbacks. One of these can be described as excessive “scientification” of what should primarily be a service: undue preoccupation with research, with statistics, with evidence-based findings. It is understandable: people have always been hoping to find something that would work for sure. We do forget, however, that we all have such a “thing” that works (or is at least capable of working) with us all the time: ourselves. And we – our genuine and authentic selves – can’t be replaced with techniques, procedures and professional roles.

We just have to open and offer ourselves, we mustn’t allow our scientific ambitions to compromise our ability to help, and we have to move back from science to service and, yes, also to art – to the art of companionship.

Personal confrontation with the finality of human earthly existence brings up deeply personal existential issues that actually can’t be helped through professional intervention. On the most personal, intimate level, people don’t long for just another professional to enter their life, but for a friend, for a companion. What really counts is the relationship.

To be able to offer genuine support, we need to re-define our understanding of who we are, where we stand, what’s expected from us and what we expect from ourselves. And it also requires that we establish specific rapport with the family – it then changes our awareness and understanding of what the family deals with and suffers from – and it also profoundly changes the way families communicate their needs and wishes to us.

In retrospect, we are surprised to see that the families we have been accompanying found help in something we either almost hadn’t noticed we were giving, or considered too common and/or insubstantial to even mention.

The outcome of personal interaction with the family – the impression left in the life of the family – may actually be positive and meaningful and healing even if the “professional” intervention delivered through the health-care system failed. And vice versa.

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A place of joy and respite

The story of their work and their foundation can be found on here

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